The Great Houses war is a central part of the book, though by necessity it’s always seen in flashbacks, as it took place sixty years before the events of the novel. It’s left marks on everyone, and of course it has also devastated Paris and given rise to the city in the book, a dystopic place where people cling to the Great Houses as their only source of safety. This scene is one of the strongest reminiscences from Philippe, who actually fought in it.
It also contains what is possibly my favourite lines in the book: the “magicians turned into soldiers… our best men turned into corpses”, which was one of those gifts from the muse: it came straight into the first draft and hasn’t really moved since.
The war. Philippe thought of the clamor of explosions; of huddling in the doorways of ruined buildings, peering at the sky to judge the best moment to rush out; of his lieutenant in House colors, urging them to lay down their lives for the good of the city; of his squad mates buried in nameless graves, on the edge of Place de la République. Ai Linh, who had had a laughter like a donkey, and always shared her biscuits with everyone else; Hoang, who liked to gamble too much; Phuong, who told hair-raising stories in the barracks after all lights had been turned off. “I don’t know what the war was like, inside the Houses,” he said, and it was almost the truth.
Emmanuelle stared at him for a while, her pleasant face almost hard. Did she suspect how he’d come to be here; what the war had been like for him? “Our magicians turned into soldiers,” she said at last. “Our students into thoughtless killers, and our best men into corpses. When the war ended, most of Morningstar’s students were dead, as were so many in the House.”
Philippe remembered the fall of House Draken; remembered retreating down corridor after corridor, as armed mortals and Fallen overwhelmed every inch of available space, and the lieutenant breathed down their necks, screaming at them to resist, to show that House Draken died with honor; he remembered thinking that he was the House’s possession, not its cherished member, that he had no honor and no desire to acquire any.
There had been so many corpses, by the time the House had succumbed; so many corpses in the abandonment of death; and he had not wept for a single one of them.
“Morningstar wasn’t on the front lines. He was always more comfortable manipulating people, after all. Not that it was unpleasant; people loved following his orders: who wouldn’t? It was such . . . terrible bliss, from what I have heard.” Her voice was resentful; it wasn’t clear whether she was angry at Morningstar’s behavior, or jealous that she hadn’t been singled out for that bitter honor. “Selene was lucky; he was teaching her at the time and didn’t want his efforts to go to waste before she was ready.”
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard is published in the UK by Gollancz on August 20th, 2015 (Hardback £20 / eBook £10.99). It is published in North America by Roc Books. For more, be sure to check out Aliette de Bodard’s website, and follow her on Twitter and Goodreads.